The Stand by Stephen King.

I have a confession.  I _didn’t_ read the Stand in the last week.

However, I feel eminently qualified to talk about it here, as I have read it at least 12 times in my lifetime.  You tend to remember a lot about a book when you read it that many times.  Yes, it is a favorite.  I read it for the first time at 12 years old and probably read it last a year or two ago.

Apparently David Foster Wallace and Jennifer Weiner also felt it was worth it.  They listed it in their top ten.  They might have read it 12 or more times too but maybe not.

I was ecstatic that at least one of King’s books made it in this book.  I personally think The Shining should have also been in here, but eh, I wasn’t asked for my top ten.

Today, I will be covering three areas.  My prior debate partners will be thrilled I’m sure at the three areas and my forecasting of them.  First, I will cover The Stand itself and a couple of brief notes on the mini series made from the book.  Secondly, I will cover why I personally feel this is some of the best apocalypse literature out there.  Finally, I will cover people’s misconceptions about Stephen King and people’s close minded views on him and his career.

First thing about The Stand.  It is long.  I don’t think it’s quite as long as Les Miserables, but it might be.  However, it is infinitely easier to read.  There are no sections on The Battle of Waterloo for the sole purpose of using the last two lines to introduce characters.  There are no sections on argot.  King isn’t interested in making long, involved meanderings from the narrative to make comments on poverty.

King covers a few different main characters from start to finish.  King describes the characters, not by description per se, but by narrative involving them.  For instance, Stu, one of the main characters is in a gas station in a small Texas town in the beginning.  King manages to give you more about his character by showing his reaction to a car plowing into a pump than by the description of him.  Larry, another main character, has a hit that climbs the charts (he’s a musician).  King shows his downward spiral as he throws the longest and hugest party in a long time.  King shows his character by describing his walk onto a beach with an acquaintance who wants to give him the hard truth, then his resulting actions, and his arrival back in New York City and his mother.  He describes Fran, by showing her reaction to a pregnancy and a confrontation with her mother.  He describes Harold, a neighbor of Fran’s by the clothes he wears, the language he uses, his actions of resourcefulness.  He describes Nick, a deaf-mute by the beating and resultant jailing and resultant friendship with the sheriff, more than by his descriptive words of him.  This is one of the things I love about King, he may use a lot of words, but in the end you feel you know the characters almost or better than you know yourself.    The story is about what happens when the government accidentally releases a “super-flu” with a 99% transmission rate and a 100% fatality rate.  The flu works by constantly shifting.  Like if you have the influenza virus, your body creates antibodies to fight it.  The super-flu works by constantly shifting antigens, basically the type of flu you have.  King describes the trail of the beginning of transmission, which I always have felt is neat.  He describes different people as they contract it and die from it.   The main characters (of which I only listed a few) all are immune, as you might have guessed.  At the beginning, before they too are infected, the government does try to find a vaccine (because apparently they weren’t smart enough to have developed it to keep themselves safe) by taking people from Stu’s town to isolate them, then figure out why Stu doesn’t have it.  Eventually, all of the people are dead except those that were immune.  King then takes a few pages to describe the people that die from a second wave of events, like a child falling in a well, a woman firing an old gun that backfires and kills her, a man jogging himself to death due to grief.  The next section of the book describes them making their way across the country (the survivors).  They have been having two dreams, one of an old black woman in Nebraska and one of the “dark man” or Randall Flagg.  The black woman represents security, goodness.  The dark man, terror.  They eventually find Abigail Freemantle, a prophet and seer, who says she has dreams to go to Boulder Colorado.  In the panicked days, a rumor had started that the flu was originating from a source in the city.  There was a mass exodus, leaving the city strangely empty.  They settle there, survivors keep trickling in.  They implement a government of sorts.  Then the battle of good versus evil (side of Abigail vs. the side of Flagg) begins.  This is where I will end, in order not to spoil the ending.

I believe this to be one of the great apocalypse stories for a couple of different reasons.  Unlike a nuclear apocalypse, King derived a way to keep the world intact, if empty of people.  King also describes in great detail the things that the survivors do, like canned food, siphoning gas, etc. etc.  I love how he describes both during and after.  I always think apocalypse stories leave too much out.  It’s probably why I like The Walking Dead so much too.  He does have characters die during the story, but it fits in perfectly into the story he weaves.  I can’t think of any other concrete reasons I can put down here.  I have read a lot of apocalypse stories and this one remains my favorite.

Finally, I get tired of people’s misconceptions and refusal of Stephen King.  There are those that refuse to read him since he got away from the bloody horror stuff.  I know, I know, there are probably straight genre readers of horror and King’s genre readers didn’t like where he has gone.  However, if they bothered to read, they would find many of his stories still carry a tone of horror, a tone of the supernatural.  Many people like this stopped reading way before Bag of Bones, one of King’s greatest horror stories in my opinion.  And they refuse to read it.

Then there are those that stopped reading after Gerald’s Game or some other book that they didn’t like.  Um, the man has written around 68 books as of 2013.  I’m sure that anyone that had written that many  (that wasn’t a franchise writer such as Danielle Steel or Nora Roberts who like to put the same character types in a different setting while trying to tell the same story) would have a dud or two.  I’m sure most of those that stopped reading have never written a thing on their own, so a judgment based on one book they didn’t like is asinine.  I personally disliked The Tommyknockers when I read it, and it was published in the mid 80s.  I still disliked it when I reread it in 2012.  However, there are many of those 68 books written since then that I have adored.  Bag of Bones and Duma Key to name just two.  So I urge those of you that gave up on King after one book you disliked to try again.  You might rediscover an author you previously loved.

I also want to address those “literary” types.  King has been criticized his entire career by critics, by other authors and by those readers that read a book because it makes them look intelligent.  Again, the man has written 68 original books (each story is different and unique, not formulaic at all), have any of those people done that?  I think a little bit of it is jealousy.  There seems to be a prejudice against an author that makes a ton of money and sells a lot of books.  Maybe they believe that only books that sell limited copies and make limited amounts are good, as your average reader doesn’t like great works of literary fiction.  King has won a medal for Distinguished Contribution to American letters.  Here is a list of the number of awards King has won since his career began.  It might be time for people to suck it up and read one of his books.

King tells a good story.  That is his main goal.  And that is what he achieves in most of those 68 books.  If you dislike horror, guts and gruesomeness, read his later works.  Some of them are almost not even close to horror.  If you like blood and guts, read the earlier books, then read the rest.

If you want to read what King himself thinks of “literary” types,  read the introduction of Full Dark, No Stars.  Which by the way has some very non horror fiction in it.

Thanks for listening to my rant 🙂  As you can tell, King ranks up there on favorite authors for me.  I grew up with him.  Well he was already an adult of course.  I read my first King novel, Firestarter at 10.  I’ve been reading him since.  I have re-read a lot of his books.  I read them so fast the first time that I want to find the things I missed.  And they are just as good as the first time.  Also, another note, King always, always makes sure his novels are unabridged when put on audio format.  He also reads Bag of Bones himself, which is amazing.  He finds the best audio book narrators.  If you don’t feel like reading one of his books, pick one up and listen.

Ok.  The end.

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Genesis–Part 3

So.  I finished Genesis.  There is a _lot_ to Genesis, which is why it took me 3 blogs to get it all the way done.  Imagine like 5 of your favorite novels condensed into a few paragraphs and mushed together and that’s what makes Genesis so hard.  There are all these different stories, but all of them go under the larger story arc.

In the final part of Genesis, Joseph is chronicled.  His father is that liar Jacob, he of the smooth skin and brother blessing stealing.  Jacob loves Joseph most of all and gives him a finely brocaded coat to prove it.  He then sends him out to check on his older brothers, whom Joseph has tormented with two dreams he had where it appeared they were bowing to him.  They see him and decide to throw him into an empty cistern.  The eldest, Reuben, in the hopes of saving him tells them to throw him in but to do nothing else.  (Reuben previously laid with his father’s concubine, costing him the elder’s rights of inheritance, so maybe he was hoping to get back into dad’s graces).  Reuben then leaves.  A traveling band of slavers passes by, and the 11 other brothers, led by Judah (who, oddly, contributes to the line of David, that contributes to the line that Jesus comes from, thereby disproving the whole “sins of the fathers” thing 😀 ), sell Joseph as a slave.  Joseph is taken to Egypt and finds favor in his master’s house.  But apparently Joseph is good looking, so the wife wants him.  Bad.  He tells her no, that it would be a sin against God to take her, as she is the one thing his master has not given him control or use of.  The wife attempts kissing him anyway.  He runs off, leaving his robe in her hand.  She then cries “Rape!”.  His master has him thrown in jail for no reason.  But he is kind enough to throw him into the prison that the high ranking prisoners are held in.   Joseph quickly gets in good with the jailer, always because of God’s favor.  He ends up interpreting two dreams, one for the Pharaoh’s cup bearer and one for the Pharaoh’s baker.  He asks the cup bearer to remember him and help him out of prison where he is unjustly held.   The cupbearer forgot him.  The baker might have remembered him, but as he lost his head about 24 hours later, it probably did Joseph no good.  Years pass, where Joseph still remains in prison.  Then the Pharaoh has two very strange dreams that he consults with a variety of supposed soothsayers, and dream interpreters, none of whom can interpret the dream.  The cup bearer FINALLY remembers Joseph and the Pharaoh calls him.  Asks him if he can interpret his dreams.  Joseph says he cannot, but that God can.  He then interprets the dreams as meaning 7 years of bounty were to be followed by 7 years of famine and that Pharaoh should start storing wheat etc against the eventual 7 years.  He listens and elevates Joseph up into the high position, the one in charge of doing all this.  Joseph does his job and does it well.  When the famine hits, Egypt is good, in fact Egypt is better, because Egypt is able to sell grain to other countries.  Suddenly, who at Joseph’s door should appear?  Why Reuben and 10 other brothers a-begging.   They don’t recognize Joseph.  He forces them into leaving one of the brothers behind and says to not return until they bring Jacob with them.  They end up coming back, Joseph reveals himself, after fighting with his anger for awhile and realizing that he needed to treat his family well.

I didn’t read the Count of Monte Cristo yet, Dave read it.  However, I did recently see the adaptation with Guy Pierce.  And all through reading this story in Genesis again, all I could think of was the Count of Monte Cristo.  Man gets framed and sold by brothers.  (Genesis).  Man gets framed and imprisoned by best friend he grew up with (Count).  Man spends years in servitude and jail (Genesis).  Man spends years in prison.  (Count).  Man becomes powerful and wealthy (Genesis).  Man finds treasure and becomes powerful and wealthy (Count).  Man is bitter and wants revenge against brothers (Genesis).  Man is bitter and wants revenge against friends and others who wrongly treated him.  (Count).  The movie ended differently than the book I think, so my comparison stops there.  However, as you can see, my original section holds true.  We keep hearing some of the same stories retold and retold in different ways.  How many stories depend on a woman wronged accusing a man of violating her?  (I know, I know, it adds to the whole “she asked for it” mindset, which is not my intention here as I think that’s disgusting.  But, it is a common literary device).

Genesis is definitely worth a read, as there were side stories in here included in the larger stories that I didn’t really go into.  Give it a read 🙂  It is worth it, whether you believe in God/Christ or are just interested in the literary side of things.  My one recommendation?  Read it in a study bible.  It gives all sorts of historical notes and cross references that, for me, enhance the story a TON.

Happy Reading!!

In two weeks, we shall discuss Luke.  Or possibly Matthew.  Whichever Gospel I decide I feel like talking about as we go into the Christmas holiday 🙂

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer! Happy Almost Friday!

Haha.  I realized for the first time in awhile, I didn’t have a “happy!” to share, so figured it’s almost Friday.  For some people that is reason enough for celebration.  For me, it’s also reason for celebration as Dave & his lovely amazing wife Shannon are coming to town.  If you’ve missed it the couple of times we’ve said it, Dave lives 8 hours away.  So, most of our communication about this blog happens over facebook and text messages.

I read Tom Sawyer this time.  The only author that listed Tom Sawyer in her top ten was Annie Proulx.

I think I would have liked Tom Sawyer better if I had read it first, but Huckleberry Finn is so much better!

Tom Sawyer is in third person narration, Huck is in first.  I always have preferred first, one of my favorite Stephen King books is a first narration one.  I also find I get more absorbed in a story if there is first person narration.

Tom Sawyer is too scattered.  He’s here! He’s there! He’s everywhere!  There isn’t much cohesion with Tom Sawyer.  There are a couple of plots that run the whole way through, like he always likes/loves Becky Thatcher.  He and Huck are always friends.  And he and Huck can count on one another to be there to help each other with the stupid things they do.

And, Huck, I think most people _like_ him.  With Tom Sawyer, it’s a bit harder to pin down whether you like him or not.  On the one hand, he _is_ funny (see my entry on Huck Finn for an example of this).  On the other hand, he can be quite obnoxious. but then he also can be quite contrite (see what I did there?) and loving.

I did like The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.  A lot.  However, I wish I hadn’t read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn first, because I would have enjoyed it more.

(Short entry, I know.  Have extenuating circumstances.  One of which is my dog sitting a foot away from me, licking her chops and whimpering, then repeating and never taking her eyes off of me.  Which is not the most pleasant thing to try to write while having happen).

Grimms Fairy Tales Continued

I know, technically today is supposed to be Dave’s book, but as I was unable to complete my task of reading the fairy tales last week, I am continuing for this week.

So, last week, I know I promised to tell you the tales that Disney didn’t want you to know, but there were really no other Disney tales left, only Rapunzel was left.  As some of you may know, a few years ago the movie Tangled came out, which was a retelling of the Rapunzel story.  The woman that kept Rapunzel locked up was painted as a  selfish, vain woman who wickedly keeps Rapunzel to herself, lying etc etc.  In the original, Rapunzel’s parents are not kings and queens as in Tangled, but just simple folk.  They live next door to a witch, who grows a garden behind her wall.  The pregnant woman, gazing into the garden, sees rapunzel (a type of plant) and desires and craves it so much and will die without it.  Her husband sneaks in and steals some.  The wife eats it and then craves it again.  When the husband sneaks back in to steal more, the witch catches him.  She agrees to give him the rapunzel but only if she can have the child if it’s a girl.  It is a girl, the witch takes her, and to keep her safe from the world puts her in the tower.  Years pass, and a prince going by hears her singing (Rapunzel not the witch) and figures out how to climb her hair.  They fall in love and he comes in the night since the witch comes during the day.  Here’s where the story has a couple of different versions before Disney changed it more…in one, Rapunzel complains about her dress getting tight and the witch realizes she is pregnant.  In the other, she says something one day about how the prince gets up there so quick and the witch so slow.  The witch then casts her out to wander the world, and cuts her hair.  She lures the prince up and shoves him out the window, where he pokes out his eyes with brambles and is blind.  Then Rapunzel & he find one another and her tears give his sight back and she had twins during the interim.  Cue the happily live ever after.

I think it is interesting how stories do change over the years, as evidenced by the cleaning up of the too tight dress to the remark about climbing speed.  In Grimms, many stories have same elements, some having the same character with similiar events, but still fairly different.  I assume it’s because over the years different regions developed the same story different.  I like to imagine someone moving from one village or town to another, then telling the tale and as the decades pass the tale changes, thereby creating two very different tales.
Three of the major types I found as I read through them were the animal ones, where animals were all the main characters or where the animals are the ones that save the hero or heroine (the human is often kind to an animal and then later given a heroic quest that must be achieved to either win the princess or to keep their life) and the animal returns to assist.  These ones also follow into the next subset, the hero quest stories, which the hero, usually some young guy who doesn’t want to be at home anymore, wanders off, and hearing of a task a king has set for anyone to achieve and marry his daughter, goes and takes the task.  They complete the task, but the king actually doesn’t want said commoner to marry his precious daughter so continues to give tasks.  The clever lad completes all and wins the girl.  There are also the ones where the girl is the clever one.  Another set is the one where one girl or one boy is unselfish and giving and because of that gains untold riches and gifts.   Their sister, friend, brother, father or mother are not unselfish and attempt to obtain the same riches, only to be killed, forced to have frogs fall out of their mouth every word they say or their eyes pecked out (the Germans must have been very afraid of eyes being pecked out).  There was also the religious category where tales sprang up around the apostles, God, Jesus and the Virgin Mary.  They were often morality tales.

As I was reading through, I often felt like I was listening to someone tell a tale.  Like getting a whiff of old campfire smoke or old fireplace smoke, I seemed to get a whiff of the old times, where there was no tv and these tales were the tv of the night.  Or the tv of the day while people did their work.  That right there made it worth my time to read them all, I felt a sense of history.  However, they are also entertaining.

I read my two favorites from when I was little, that I had forgotten until I read them again.  One is Rose Red and Snow White, in which two beautiful daughters of a simple woman are close as close can be.  There is such a playful humor to the tale that I think that is partly what captivated me as a child.  I still loved it when I reread it.  The other one was Six Swans (which I could find nowhere to link to for it), which shows a youngest sister of 6 brothers sacrificing her voice and her ability to defend herself for six years, until such a time as she was about to be burnt alive and the years ended and she was able to defend herself.  It is a lyrical almost haunting tale to me.  I recommend if you have a copy of them look this one up.

I would definitely recommend to anyone reading this, irregardless of whether they have children or not.  But these also would make a great gift for a young child, girl or boy above the age of 6 (it’s not illustrated so with whatever reading skill they are at).

Starting in on eleven and a half years of books…

My friend Kim was talking to me the other day. She had picked up The Top Ten: Writers Pick Their Favorite Books edited by J. Peder Zane and she had an idea.

Apparently, The Top Ten: Writers Pick Their Favorite Books compiles lists of what a ton of various authors (Barry Hannah, Francine Prose, Ben Marcus, Emma Donoghue, Jonathan Franzen, Joyce Carol Oates, Stephen King, and many others) consider to be the ten best books of all time. They even compile various lists out of the lists. Books and books and books.

So, Kim came up with the idea that it would be fun to start a book blog (this) and go through book by book, reviewing each as we went. I was game, so that’s what we are doing.

Now, The Top Ten: Writers Pick Their Favorite Books lists a total of 544 total books. The intro claims that if you read one a week it would take you eleven and a half years to finish. Seeing as that was about the rate we were planning (trading off), we suddenly had a clever name for the blog.

I should mention, we may not do each and every book. We might not keep this up for eleven and a half years, and may not stick to our planned schedule exactly. Some of the books on the lists aren’t even books (such as references to the entire work of an author or an entire form of their work). As it is right now, I’ve already read about 167 of these (not counting partials for the vague references mentioned a second ago) and may not want to always revisit. I also currently refuse to read any more Henry James.

We also might wander around a bit. We might talk about some of the authors who gave their opinions and how their work has influenced us as opposed to the books they talk about. We might even talk about totally different books. Really, we might do just about anything we want. However, it will likely all be (or mostly be) book related.

As such, feel free to follow along. Our opinions are just our opinions, but we have some great books to talk about.